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West German Teen-age Pilot Describes Daring Flight

September 3, 1987

MOSCOW (AP) _ A West German teen-ager on trial for flying a single-engine plane into Soviet airspace and landing it on Red Square told a court the trip was ″the greatest mistake I’ve made in my life.″

Mathias Rust, 19, apologized to the Soviet Supreme Court for his daring flight but said his intentions were to bring about world disarmament.

″I sought the source of peace, and the source of peace is not in Washington, but in Moscow,″ Rust told the court Wednesday on the first day of his trial. The proceedings were to resume today.

In five hours of testimony Wednesday, the teen-ager from suburban Hamburg provided new details of the May 28 flight from Helsinki, Finland to Moscow, saying Soviet warplanes came so close to his Cessna 172b that he could see the pilots’ orange flight suits.

He landed the plane before hundreds of astonished pedestrians near the Kremlin, the seat of Soviet power. The feat resulted in a shakeup in the Soviet military.

Rust faces charges of hooliganism, illegally crossing the Soviet border and violating international flight rules. He could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. The trial is expected to last three days.

In nearly five hours of testimony Wednesday, the tall, thin pilot said he carried out the flight because he wanted to meet Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss a new political system to bring East and West together in ″full democracy.″

Supreme Court Judge Robert Tikhomirnov and prosecutor Vladimir Andreyev repeatedly reminded Rust that he could have injured many people by landing on crowded Red Square.

Rust first told Tikhomirnov after the charges were read that ″I am aware of my guilt,″ but later he said he did not acknowledge guilt on the charge of malicious hooliganism.

Under questioning from his Soviet lawyer, Vsevolod Yakovlev, and prosecutor Andreyev, Rust admitted his action was wrong.

″I threatened the lives of people. That’s my opinion today. I will never repeat it,″ he said. ″It’s the greatest mistake I’ve made in my life.″

Asked why he chose to fly illegally to Red Square rather than ask Soviet officials for permission for the flight, he said:

″I had to have the echo of world public opinion. That was possible, according to my opinion then, by a flight that didn’t correspond with any norms.″

Rust said that he encountered Soviet warplanes during his flight but shut off his radio to avoid hearing any orders to cut short the trip.

After he brought the plane down between the Kremlin wall and St. Basil’s Cathedral, he said, ″I waited for what would happen next. I only thought about landing in Moscow.″

Rust, who has spent the last 14 weeks in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, called himself ″a very sentimental man″ who meant no harm to anyone.

Monika Rust, the youth’s mother, testified that her son was ″a young person who, with a clean heart, wishes the world nothing but peace and security.″

She portrayed the pilot as a loner who was worried about international relations but who never took part in the West German peace movement.

Mrs. Rust, her husband, Karl-Heinz, and the couple’s other son, Ingo, arrived Sunday for the trial.

Rust began his journey with a flight in mid-May from Hamburg to Iceland, the site of last fall’s summit meeting between Gorbachev and President Reagan.

He testified that during his stay in Iceland, ″I realized that we live in very complicated circumstances, that both parts of the population are ready to live well in peace with other people, and both sides are confident that neither side needs arms.″

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